We know that umpires call different strike zones. The strike zone varies from night to night, and some pitchers benefit from a larger strike zone than others. Just ask Mike Leake which side of that he was on Sunday. As I mentioned in the Game Thread Friday night, the folks at The Hardball Times presented new illustrations from pitch f/x data last week that showed the strike zone changes size based on pitch count.

Umpires expand their strike zone on 3-0 pitches and shrink their strike zones on 0-2 pitches. They’ve estimated a 3-0 count has on average a 50% larger strike zone being called than an 0-2 pitch. In fact, they illustrate that the correlation between strike zone size and pitch count exists for 2-0 and 0-1 pitch counts also. On average, the strike zone is wider in a hitter’s count and narrower in a pitchers count.

I wouldn’t think that this is something intentionally done on the part of the umpires, but it would seem, at least subconsciously, that the umpires want to see the outcome of the game based on the batter swinging the bat.

10 Responses

  1. wanderinredsfan

    If an automated system existed to accurately call balls and strikes, would you want it? Envisioning such a system and the effects on the game is an interesting exercise. Would the scale be tipped towards the batter?

    I think I enjoy the idiosyncrocies (sp?) of live umpiring, and would hate the game to be dependent on technology.

  2. RiverCity Redleg

    Very interesting. It’s amazing how behavioral science is so consistant. “Human nature” is actually pretty predictable.

  3. Sultan of Swaff

    Humans are empathetic creatures. I think the umps subconciously adjust their zone based on the struggling player.
    Then there’s CB Bucknor. Who knows what the hell he was calling last night.

  4. RiverCity Redleg

    @wanderinredsfan: You see the same argument in football with replays on fumbles, catches and touchdowns. Ultimately, I think fans just want the call to be right. I think it would be a tougher sell in baseball b/c of all the “traditionalists”, but in the end I predict the majority of people would warm up to it knowing the correct call was being made.

  5. Jared

    It’s not hard for the supporters to go find a half dozen terrible pitch calls to back their arguments. But it’s hard to ignore the vast majority of calls that are right or at least close enough.

    It’d be interesting to see how pitch counts and game times would be affected. The trends mentioned obviously increase both, whether its the pitcher or batter getting ahead. Kerry Wood might be a fan. He also might be a lawn gnome.

  6. mike

    fascinating. thanks

    ever since I was old enough to play little league (there wasn’t t-ball that long ago) I always wanted a computer to call balls-n-strikes.

  7. Jared

    Aren’t there a fair number pitches that pitch f/x doesn’t track correctly? I seem to remember a non-trivial number of pitches that didn’t seem like they could have possibly been where pitch f/x said they were.

  8. pinson343

    I would like to see the umpires be consistent. And I’d like to see them call the high strike, as they’re supposed to do. I like an umpire with a big and consistent strike zone.

    While video review based on challenge has been a huge success in tennis, relying on technology 100 % has had its problems. They rely on technology for the serve, and there have been problems with that. For one thing, the technology often thinks a serve has hit the net when it hasn’t. (A close shot makes the top of the net vibrate.)

    Technology has to be very far along to rely on it 100%. When it’s wrong, it’s more aggravating than human error, and who do you yell at ?